Learn the ropes at Bond Fitness in Santa Barbara

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Amy Ramos at Bond Fitness (with instructor) | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Popular fitness programs are a bit like cults: the charismatic figure at the center, the dedicated followers, and the dramatic changes in behavior that result. Fortunately, the result in the fitness world is usually improved cardiovascular health and toned muscles, not lawsuits and raids. Curious about the devotees of Bond Fitness, where both a colleague and a neighbor are devoted members, I set out to find out what inspired such allegiance.

Bond Fitness began as the Jenny Schatzle program. The famously talkative Schatzle still dominates the company as co-owner, but she changed the company’s name to shift its focus away from herself and to emphasize relationships. “Bond” refers to the bonds she wants members to form with themselves, with each other and with the many instructors.

The light-filled studio is well stocked with equipment, but don’t plan to come in after work or on a weekend morning for a solo practice session. Bond’s philosophy is that group training is the key to fitness success, which is why Bond only offers classes: specifically, 50 minutes of circuit training. Although the classes are high-intensity, Schatzle points out that the Bond studio is a judgment-free zone, with workouts accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels.

Schatzle boasts that a Bond workout is different every time. All studio equipment can be moved except for the treadmills placed in the front window, allowing instructors to vary routines.

The lessons I took, however, followed a basic pattern: two or four circuits, with each circuit made up of at least six stations of equipment. Cardio was built into the circuits, and sometimes interval cardio was interspersed between the circuits: mountain climbers, jumping jacks, or — in a throwback to college gym class — a jog around the block.

Amy Ramos at Bond Fitness (and instructor and other students) | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Instructors circulated through the class, correcting form, bumping fists, and suggesting modifications for those like me who avoid jumping or have injuries or other limitations. Although we were encouraged to sprint sometimes when we were on bikes or on a treadmill, no one was ashamed of choosing a more moderate pace. I was impressed when Kate, a three-year-old who was 29 weeks pregnant, easily converted the seated rower into a stand-up ski machine. “My belly is too big for the rower,” she laughed, noting that she usually sees at least one other pregnant woman in class.

Most of the equipment was familiar to me, except for the fabric-covered ropes anchored to the back wall. Deceptively simple in their analog design – just weighted strings that you whip up and down like in a chariot race – they quickly turned my arms into a head. Instructor and co-owner Chito Elias likes to pair them with a bosu ball for a balance challenge, a particularly fiendish combination. And the day I unknowingly chose 40 lbs. ropes (the rest weighs 20 lbs), my knees were wobbling so much I wasn’t sure if I would stay upright.

Even on days when I didn’t accidentally use twice the intended weight, I found the Bond workouts to be intense. Although I regularly go to the gym, my pecs, traps and abs were sore after my first Bond workout. (Cari, a regular at the 5:30 weekday class, told me she was a Bond fan because she belonged to another gym but had no muscles to show.) When I went after work, was wiped out for the rest of the evening and slept great.

But intense workouts are available in many places. What about the connections that Schatzle highlights as central to the Bond experience?

Schatzle insists that she “never wanted to start a gym. I wanted to create a community. And I felt very welcome at home. I was asked to arrive early for my first class so that I could get an orientation to the studio and tutorials on the bike and treadmill.As a beginner, I had my picture taken and introduced to the rest of the class.

Amy Ramos (and other clients) at Bond Fitness | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Classes themselves are often structured for ease of connection. One day, Schatzle paired us up in pods, with pod partners alternating activities at each station on the circuit. After two tours, we were asked to walk around the block with our pod partners and given a list of questions to ask ourselves. Turns out my partner Susan and I both work in education and are transplanted to Santa Barbara. Since joining Bond five years ago, Susan has lost 20 pounds, is much more toned and has started running.

I’ve decided that’s what keeps people coming back to Bond – not just the results you get, but the encouragement to try something new and the insistence that you’re capable of more than you think so. I thought of people who had come after class to say, “Good job,” when I didn’t think I had distinguished myself in any way. But after all, I managed to move those 40 pounds. ropes and not fall from the bosu ball. It was more than enough; it was a triumph.

Regarding COVID Safety: Like many fitness studios, Bond has had to pivot during the pandemic (hosting workouts on Instagram Live and in parks, and moving the studio outdoors for a while) and has set up lasting changes, such as capping classes at 36 participants. In the classes I took, I was the only person wearing a mask – a common occurrence as COVID recedes. Wipes are provided and each person must wipe down the equipment they use before moving on to the next station. The studio is professionally cleaned twice a day. Proof of vaccination is not required.

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Bond Fitness is located at 211 W. Carrillo St., where approximately 10 classes per day are held from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., pre-registration required. Towel service included. Lockers are provided for storing personal items and there are bathrooms and sinks but no showers. On-site and street parking available. Membership includes access to a library of on-demand virtual courses. Call (805) 845-6700 or visit bondfitness.com.


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